Allen Jones and the Nude
Pop Art is an art movement that started in the mid-1950s and presented a challenge to the traditional expectations of art. Artists who were involved focused on various themes such as mass production and sexuality in the hope of making references to contemporary society. In this essay I am going to discuss how sexuality and women are presented in Pop Art by analysing Allen Jones’ works in relation to John Berger’s argument on how women are depicted in western paintings. The representation of women in Pop Art can be seen as a continuation of an age old artistic genre as the nude has been around for centuries in many different cultures. In the 1950s, pin-up girls were considered a part of popular culture and therefore representations of women became a common theme among pop artists. This particular theme also allowed the artists to experiment with eye catching colours and gimmicky imagery, creating a new style of art. John Berger is an art critic best known for his book titled Ways of Seeing. In the third chapter of the book, he discusses the depiction of women in art by making references to well-known European paintings. His argument mainly focuses on the objectification of women through sexualised imagery. John Berger discusses the treatment of women in such ways, claiming that women are depicted as passive whereas men, the hypothetical-viewers, are thought to be active. He extends his argument explaining the concept of the surveyor and the surveyed. According to him, the surveyed are women, as they are constantly observed by men. Because women always imagine how they appear to others, they also play the role of the surveyor. By doing this, they manage to control their presence and how they will be treated by men. Berger, then, sums this up by suggesting ‘…men act and women appear.’1 This shows that women play a passive role in comparison to men, meaning men watch while women display themselves by highlighting their best features. Berger also discusses the meaning of nude. He claims that naked and nude are different things as ‘nudity is a form of dress’ whereas ‘naked is to be oneself.’ According to Berger a woman must be on display and seen as a sight to be considered nude. She must be aware of the spectator that surveys her and act accordingly. This obviously affects her presence by changing it to something that would flatter men. As a result, the woman isn’t recognised as herself but as an object. When she becomes an object, she can no longer be considered naked as her own body is ‘turned into a disguise.’2 One of the paintings Berger uses as an example to prove his point is titled Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, which depicts the relationship between Venus and Cupid. Venus’ pose glorifies her body shape and according to Berger has nothing to do with her sexual passion. She displays her body to the audience and therefore she becomes an object. On the other hand, Cupid’s body is not displayed to an audience in any way. This draws a clear line between the role of women and men by identifying them as passive and active respectively and also suggests that the women is only there for the sake of the audience. ‘…the principal protagonist’, Berger argues, ‘is never painted. He is the spectator in front of the picture and he is presumed to be a man. Everything is addressed to him. Everything must appear as a result of him being there.’3 What Berger refers to is the idea that women display themselves in a certain way because of the man’s presence. In other words, if men hadn’t played the role of a spectator, Venus would have been positioned more naturally. Berger also highlights the fact that the spectator is assumed to be a man suggesting that this also affects the painting. Unlike Venus, Cupid’s position looks very natural as the painting isn’t directed at a female audience. Allen Jones is a British pop artist who focuses on females in his work. His work has elements of controversy in the sense...
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